Jack Watson was born in El Paso, Texas on October 24, 1938. He attended Vanderbilt University on a Naval ROTC Scholarship and graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1960. Upon graduation, Watson was commissioned as an Officer in the U.S. Marine Corps and served as a Pathfinder and Reconnaissance Team Leader in the First Force Reconnaissance Company at Camp Pendleton, California. He left the Marine Corps with the rank of Captain.
After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1966, Watson joined the law firm of King & Spalding in Atlanta, Georgia. He was a trial lawyer and became a partner in the firm in 1972. Between 1966 and 1976, Watson also began a distinguished career in public service, serving as Counsel to the Atlanta Commission on Crime and Juvenile Delinquency; President of the Metropolitan Atlanta Mental Health Association; Chair of the Georgia Alcoholism Advisory Council; and, from 1972 to 1977, Chair of the Board of the Georgia Department of Human Resources.
In 1975-76, Watson served as Chair of the Georgia Finance Committee and as a National Finance Director of Jimmy Carter’s Presidential Primary Campaign. In the summer and fall of 1976, he headed the Carter-Mondale Policy Planning Office in Atlanta, planning for Carter’s possible transition to the Presidency. Upon Carter’s election in November 1976, Carter asked Watson to organize and direct the Carter Transition Team. Upon assuming office, the President appointed Watson to the Senior White House Staff, as Secretary to the Cabinet and Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs, reporting directly to the President. In those dual roles, Watson served as the President’s chief liaison with the Cabinet Secretaries and other Presidential Appointees and with the nation’s governors, mayors and other state and local elected leaders. As part of his responsibilities, Carter also asked Watson to oversee the federal response to National Disasters, such as the widespread droughts in the Western States in 1977-78; the gasoline shortages and national truckers’ strike in 1978; the Three Mile Island Nuclear Crisis and Mount St. Helen’s Eruption in 1979; and the massive influx of Cubans from Mariel Harbor to the United States in 1980. One of Watson’s recommendations led to creation of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in 1979.
In 1978, Carter signed a Presidential Executive Order naming Watson Chair of the President’s Interagency Coordinating Council, a cabinet-level, interdepartmental group that coordinated the government-wide execution of Carter’s major domestic policies, such as the President’s “Comprehensive National Urban Policy” and “Small Community and Rural Development Policy.” Watson was one of the principal architects of those policies and their emphasis on the use of federal grants and low-interest rate loans to stimulate and leverage state and local, as well as private sector investment, in the nation’s most distressed urban and rural areas.
In 1980, President Carter appointed Watson White House Chief of Staff. Following Carter’s defeat in the 1980 Presidential Election, Watson oversaw the transition to the Reagan Administration and then returned to Atlanta to resume law practice as a Senior Partner in the law firm of Long, Aldridge & Norman. In 1990, the Georgia Supreme Court appointed Watson Chair of the Georgia Commission on Dispute Resolution, a position he held for ten years. During his chairmanship, the Georgia Supreme Court implemented a statewide system of court annexed Alternative Dispute Resolution services.
Mr. Watson has served on the board of the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute since 1985. During his board service, he has chaired the Institute’s Strategic Planning Committee and currently serves as Vice Chair of the Board of Directors and Chair of the Board’s Executive Committee.